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Implement Sci. 2010 Jan 30;5:8. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-5-8.

The impact of provider-initiated (opt-out) HIV testing and counseling of patients with sexually transmitted infection in Cape Town, South Africa: a controlled trial.

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  • 1Health Systems Research Unit, Medical Research Council of South Africa (MRC), Cape Town, South Africa.



The effectiveness of provider-initiated HIV testing and counseling (PITC) for patients with sexually transmitted infection (STI) in resource-constrained settings are of particular concern for high HIV prevalence countries like South Africa. This study evaluated whether the PITC approach increased HIV testing amongst patients with a new episode of sexually transmitted infection, as compared to standard voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) at the primary care level in South Africa, a high prevalence and low resource setting.


The design was a pragmatic cluster-controlled trial with seven intervention and 14 control clinics in Cape Town. Nurses in intervention clinics integrated PITC into standard HIV care with few additional resources, whilst lay counselors continued with the VCT approach in control clinics. Routine data were collected for a six-month period following the intervention in 2007, on new STI patients who were offered and who accepted HIV testing. The main outcome measure was the proportion of new STI patients tested for HIV, with secondary outcomes being the proportions who were offered and who declined the HIV test.


A significantly higher proportion of new STI patients in the intervention group tested for HIV as compared to the control group with (56.4% intervention versus 42.6% control, p = 0.037). This increase was achieved despite a significantly higher proportion intervention group declining testing when offered (26.7% intervention versus 13.5% control, p = 0.0086). Patients were more likely to be offered HIV testing in intervention clinics, where providers offered the HIV test to 76.8% of new STI patients versus 50.9% in the control group (p = 0.0029). There was significantly less variation in the main outcomes across the intervention clinics, suggesting that the intervention also facilitated more consistent performance.


PITC was successful in three ways: it increased the proportion of new STI patients tested for HIV; it increased the proportion of new STI patients offered HIV testing; and it delivered more consistent performance across clinics. Recommendations are made for increasing the impact and feasibility of PITC in high HIV prevalence and resource-constrained settings. These include more flexible use of clinical and lay staff, and combining PITC with VCT and other community-based approaches to HIV testing.


Controlled trial ISRCTN93692532.

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